Books I Read in September & October 2016

In September I read:

rubens-pieter-paul-1577-1640-simon-the-zealot-copyDoctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope, read by Nicholas Clifford for LibriVox.orgDoctor Thorne is the third of Anthony Trollope’s “Barsetshire” novels. Subsequent to these novels, Anthony Trollope wrote his six political “Palliser” novels. There is some overlap, however, and Doctor Thorne introduces the Duke of Omnium, Gatherum Castle, and Silverbridge, all of which go on to play greater roles in the “Palliser” novels.

Unlike Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope didn’t find it necessary to make his heroines meek plasterboard saints. He created them to be feminine, spirited, and active, and although his writing isn’t perfect, I much prefer his characters to those of Dickens. I’m thinking now of the episode in Mary Thorne’s childhood in which she insists (rightly) that the Greshams’ French governess, and not their servant-girl, was guilty of a theft. Again, although Mary Thorne thought too much of rank, she still stuck to her promise to Frank, despite having been almost convinced by his mother’s arguments against their engagement.

I do think that Frank, having decided to marry a poor girl, and therefore necessitating his earning a living, should have started preparing for a profession, instead of going abroad as his parents desired. Also, I disapprove of Sir Roger Scatcherd and Doctor Thorne’s desire to have Louis married. It might have been the making of him, the saving of him, but they didn’t have the right to sacrifice any woman to that chance. The Doctor’s hypocrisy in this matter is shown by his unwillingness to even consider his own niece’s being married to Louis.

My favorite characters were Miss Dunstable and Doctor Thorne. I also like Frank and Mary. Miss Dunstable had good sense, honesty, and a sense of humor, making her likable and entertaining. I was amused by the way she handles one of her suitors, as she tells Frank: “Mr Moffat has turned up again. We all thought you had finally extinguished him. He left a card the other day, and I have told the servant always to say that I am at home, and that you are with me.” (Frank was supposed to also be a suitor of Miss Dunstable’s and had beaten Mr. Moffet for jilting his sister, which I disapprove, but which Miss Dunstable turned it to good account.)

I enjoyed Doctor Thorne. Nicholas Clifford’s reading of it was excellent, as well. It was clear and pleasant. Not all LibriVox recordings are equal, but I can recommend this one.

Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake  — This is an odd book. It has much more description than it should, but it definitely succeeds in creating its own atmosphere. The characters are interesting, and, overall, I enjoyed the book, though I wouldn’t want to read it over again. I liked the poems Mervyn Peake included.

A freckled and frivolous cake there was
     That sailed on a pointless sea,
Or any lugubrious lake there was
     In a manner emphatic and free.
How jointlessly, and how jointlessly
     The frivolous cake sailed by
On the waves of the ocean that pointlessly
     Threw fish to the lilac sky.

Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope, read by various readers for LibriVox.org — The fourth of Anthony Trollope’s “Barsetshire” novels. I liked Mark and Fanny Robarts, especially the latter. She was my favorite character. Those two make the story worthwhile. At first I also liked Mark’s sister Lucy a great deal, but, despite starting out well, her romance fell a bit flat by the end, greatly through her own fault. Also, although I was gratified by my two favorite characters from Doctor Thorne being united in matrimony, I felt a bit cheated by the manner in which this was accomplished. It was too prosaic. Given the characters, I felt like there should have been more humor and open, decided affection in their courtship.

— — —

In October I read:

Although I started two or three other books in October, I have only finished one so far.

rubens-pieter-paul-1577-1640-saint-thomas-copyThe Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope, read by various readers for LibriVox.org  — The fifth of Anthony Trollope’s “Barsetshire” novels and my least favorite so far. Belle Dale and Doctor Crofts were about the only characters I liked. (Earl De Guest and his sister weren’t bad, but they were minor characters.) Johnny bugged me by his flirtations with Amelia, the Squire was mean (his hidden inner feelings don’t excuse the way he treated people), Lucy’s attitude toward Crosbie after he left her rather disgusted me, and Crosbie didn’t make enough effort to make his wife happy.

I agree with Fanny Price: “I cannot think well of a man who sports with any woman’s feelings” (Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen). Johnny Eames didn’t have the right to kiss Amelia and tell her that he loved her when he knew full well that he didn’t and that he, in fact, loved another woman. Anthony Trollope makes the best excuse he can for him:

“O ye mothers who from year to year see your sons launched forth upon the perils of the world, and who are so careful with your good advice, with under flannel shirting, with books of devotion and tooth-powder, does it never occur to you that provision should be made for amusement, for dancing, for parties, for the excitement and comfort of women’s society? That excitement your sons will have, and if it be not provided by you of one kind, will certainly be provided by themselves of another kind.” (ch. 51)

Although I agree with Trollope’s statement here, I do not find in it sufficient excuse for Johnny’s behaviour. I also don’t think Johnny should have beaten Mr. Crosbie. Yes, Mr. Crosbie had treated Lily very badly, but I believe in a man’s right to walk down a street (or train platform) unmolested by assault.

And on that subject, I think Crosbie was right to break off his engagement with Lily, painful to her as it was. A man should not marry a woman unless he thinks he will be happy with her and that he couldn’t do better. Lily was made very unhappy by losing him, but I think she would have been even more unhappy when she found out, as she would have, that Crosbie hankered after his lost comforts and felt he had done himself an injury and come down in the world by marrying her.

Lily Dale reminded me a bit of Marianne Dashwood, especially in the way she gave herself so wholly to the man she loved. In one respect she was stronger than Marianne. She determined to not let her grief get the better of her. On the other hand, Marianne admitted the truth, that Willoughby had jilted her because of his own selfishness, and didn’t continue to fill her heart with him. Lily, in contrast, continued to think Mr. Crosbie worthy of her affection. Although I don’t think she should have engaged herself to John Eames (he was right, it was too soon), I was repulsed by the reasons she gave him and her mother, declaring that she could never marry another man:

“I still love [Mr. Crosbie] better than all the world. … I should be disgraced in my own eyes if I admitted the love of another man …. It is to me almost as though I had married him.” (ch. 53) “If [his wife] died, and he came to me in five years time, I would still take him. I should think myself constrained to take him. … In my heart I am married to that other man. I gave myself to him, and loved him, and rejoiced in his love. … There are things that will not have themselves buried and put out of sight, as though they had never been. I am as you are, mamma,—widowed.” (ch. 57)

Considering that Mr. Crosbie is, at this point, a married man, Lily’s attitude towards him is not right. Of course, she could not just suddenly change her feelings towards him, but she didn’t even determine to overcome them, but, rather, considered herself bound to him. Though she called herself a widow, a widow can remarry, and Lily felt that it would be a sin for her to marry another man.

Aside from the story, I have one complaint about Anthony Trollope’s style in general. I don’t like how he addresses his readers as if they were, by and large, delicate young ladies. It tends to come across as condescending. This is a minor complaint, however, and doesn’t affect his books much overall.

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Paintings: Simon the Zealot and Saint Thomas, by Pieter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640).

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